Shrove Tuesday is a great day for pancake lovers, but Shrove Tuesday also has a special religious significance for Christians, and provides a valuable message for people all over the world.
Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day as it is often called, is the last day before the Christian festival of Lent begins. Lent is the time when Christians prepare for Easter by giving up something special for 40 days. Traditionally Christians would fast (give up food) as a way of remembering the 40 days that Jesus spent alone in the desert, but nowadays people give up all sorts of things for the 40 day period. Television, meat, wine and chocolate are common sacrifices, but people can choose to forgo anything in recognition of the festival.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. Traditionally Christians would rub ashes on their forehead on this day, as a way of showing they were sorry for their sins. The ashes are made from the palm crosses from last year’s Palm Sunday celebrations, and symbolise the death and resurrection of Christ.
While Lent is traditionally for remembering biblical events, it can also be used to think of families throughout the world who are not as lucky as we are here in New Zealand. Choosing to forgo a luxury such as computer games or ice cream, may give children an appreciation of how children have to live in other parts of the world.
Shrove Tuesday always falls 47 days before Easter Sunday, so the exact date is dependant on when Easter begins. Shrove Tuesday can fall anytime between 3rd February and 9th March every year.
How did Shrove Tuesday get its name?
The term Shrove comes from the old word ‘shrive’, which means to confess. In the Middle Ages people would use the day before Lent as a time for confession, so that they were clean and forgiven before Lent began. Shrove Tuesday was also the last chance for people to use up their fat, butter and eggs before the Lent season, so many people chose to make pancakes. Because of this, the day became known as Pancake Day, and was seen as the last day for indulging.
In other countries, including France, Sweden, Finland, and Poland, Shrove Tuesday is referred to as Fat Tuesday. Various foods such as doughnuts, pastries and pies are eaten instead of pancakes, all of which use up fat before Lent.
How is Shrove Tuesday celebrated?
Pancake Day is particularly rich with tradition in Britain, with all sorts of fun activities happening all over the country. Pancake races, pancake scrambles, and pancake making and eating competitions are some of the most common, with a couple of specific events holding a ‘famous’ status.
The most well known Pancake Race is held in Olney, Buckinghamshire, and has been an annual tradition since 1445. The story goes that a woman was busy making pancakes when she heard the church bell ring for confession. She was in such a hurry to confess before Lent, that she ran out the door with the frypan still in her hand! Nowadays, the women-only race covers a 375m course finishing with a kiss from the church bellringer. Entrants must be wearing a dress and apron, carry a pancake in a pan, and flip it 3 times during the race.
Another famous tradition in Britain is the annual Pancake Grease which is held at Westminster School in London. The school cook makes an enormous pancake and throws it into the air. All the school boys scramble to get a piece of the pancake, and the one with the biggest piece receives a cash prize from the dean.
Other traditions around the world include:
- In Canada objects are baked into the pancakes for the eaters to find. It is said that if you find a coin you will be rich, and if you find a ring you will marry.
- In Germany, Austria, and Lithuania people eat doughnuts instead of pancakes.
- In Estonia and Finland families go sledding and eat split pea and ham soup.
- In Sweden people eat pastries filled with marzipan and whipped cream. As protestant Swedes no longer observe Lent, it has become tradition to eat these pastries on every Tuesday leading up to Easter.
In France people celebrate Pancake Day in Mardi Gras style, as a way of indulging in everything before Lent begins.
Celebrate Shrove Tuesday with your Family
Have a pancake breakfast (or dinner) with the whole family, and talk about what you could give up for Lent. You may not want to go without something for a full 40 days, but encouraging children to give something up for a day or two may be a valuable lesson, and make them appreciate just how lucky they are.
You might like to discuss how it is for children in other countries, and each of you could agree to give something up in order to sponsor a child. You might like to give up one cappuccino a week, your child may give up a specific treat, or they could take a cut in pocket money to help save a life. While some children will react like they’ve just lost a limb, you’ll be surprised by how excited they get when they start to receive letters about how their money is making a difference.
Turn your decision to ‘give something up’ into a celebration and indulge in pancakes, doughnuts, and dancing. Invite friends and family around to celebrate with you, and encourage them to give something up as well. Here’s a fabulous no-fail pancake recipe to get your mini Mardi Gras started.
2 cups Flour
2 ½ teaspoons Baking Powder
½ teaspoon Salt
1 ½ cup Milk
2 tablespoons Melted Butter
Lightly beat the egg and milk together, and then slowly pour into the sifted dry ingredients. Mix gently before adding the melted butter, and mix again. Pour small amounts of the batter into a hot pan, and flip it over once the mixture starts to bubble.
When both sides are brown, remove the pancake from the pan and top it with lemon and sugar, fresh fruit, ice cream, maple syrup, or whatever delicious toppings take your fancy.